“The sun knoweth his going down”—PSALM 104:19

“Time, that takes a survey of all the world,” wrote Shakespeare, “must have a stop.” No one has ever doubted that the pendulum of each individual life must some day fail to hit its full arc, and fall motionless. But today there is an astonishingly widespread feeling that in a larger sense the corporate life of all men, human history, is reaching some kind of culmination or cataclysm. The dizzying acceleration of events, coupled with the incalculable growth of power and no balancing growth of wisdom, has created a feeling that man’s influence on his destiny is cracking or already shattered. The belief is growing that the Bible’s view of human history as linear, with a beginning, middle, and end, may have some truth in it.

The voices of the complacent (“since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning …”) have little conviction, and the faces of the prophets of automatic human progress wear strained smiles. True, the old mottoes are still sometimes heard, chiefly those predicting the elimination or reduction of the human problem through technology, or computers, or drugs, and to doubt this is still to open oneself to the charge of pessimism. But beneath the surface one finds in most people a profound disquiet. Perhaps the following statement is too strong, but one rather sympathizes with its mood: “We confront several problems,” it was recently asserted, “which are absolutely predictable, absolutely unavoidable, and absolutely disastrous.” (Mentioned were the population explosion, pollution of the planet, proliferation of atomic weapons, and depletion of natural resources. Not mentioned: sin.)

When, in Housman’s phrase, to think is to lay one’s hand ...

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